Dallas legend J.J. Barea talks Kyrie Irving, Mavericks’ woes and NBA Abu Dhabi Games

Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea (5) in an NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK, USA, Dec 31, 2018. (Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports)
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Updated 18 May 2023
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Dallas legend J.J. Barea talks Kyrie Irving, Mavericks’ woes and NBA Abu Dhabi Games

  • Puerto Rican discusses ongoing playoffs, predicts Celtics championship win

J.J. Barea, one of the most beloved players in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, believes his former team have a tough decision to make regarding Kyrie Irving this summer.

The now retired Puerto Rican, who was a key figure in the Mavericks’ NBA title run alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in 2011, acknowledges the trade deadline signing that brought Irving to Dallas from Brooklyn in February did not pay off but that there could still be an argument made for re-signing the 31-year-old guard.

Speaking to Arab News to help promote the highly anticipated preseason games between the Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves in Abu Dhabi in October, Barea weighed in on the Irving dilemma.

“I think you could go either way,” he said. “I think Kyrie is such a special talent that maybe you could try it again. And maybe if you find the right pieces to put around Kyrie and Luka (Doncic), it could be really, really good.

“And you also could go opposite, you could let him go or try to do a sign-and-trade and get some good players for him and go that route. But it’s a tough decision. Kyrie is a special talent, there’s nothing like that in the NBA, so you gotta figure it out.”

Brunson departure hurt Mavs

The Mavericks went from being conference finalists last year to missing out on the playoffs altogether this season. Their campaign ended on a sour note as they were handed a $750,000 fine for resting players in an elimination game against the Chicago Bulls in order to improve their chances of keeping their first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Barea believes losing Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks was the key reason behind the Mavericks’ struggles this season.

“I played with Brunson, I knew how good he was, how good he is. And I knew that really was going to hurt the Mavericks,” said Barea, who spent two stints in Dallas, from 2006-11 and from 2014-20.

“I didn’t know that it was going to hurt that much. And then I think the Mavericks, you know, this year was tough. They were trying to figure it out, trying to put things together and the NBA is so hard, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. And then they tried with Kyrie too, they made the trade there and it didn’t work out either.

“But I know Mark (Cuban) and I know Jay (Jason Kidd) and Dirk (Nowitzki) and they’re all going to be trying as hard as they can this summer to put a team together, a better team this year and compete again.”

Resting players ‘not a good look’

Tanking is nothing new in the NBA and many teams have tried, and will continue to try, to game the system to secure higher draft picks.

“As a competitor, as a player, I would never want to do that. I’m always trying to win no matter what,” Barea said.

“But I haven’t been on the other side. I haven’t been in the business side. It’s never a great look, to do that. It’s not good for the NBA, it’s not good for Dallas, it’s not good for the players.

“But it seems to happen every year. Some people you can see it. Some people you can’t see it. But that’s something the NBA knows and they’re trying to get away from.”

Barea is certain Abu Dhabi is in for a treat as the Mavericks and Timberwolves make their way to the UAE capital this autumn for two games at the Etihad Arena.

The NBA Abu Dhabi Games enjoyed a successful first year when the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks put on a show in front of a sellout crowd last October at the Yas Island state-of-the-art venue.

This time, basketball fans in the Emirates are eagerly waiting to welcome Doncic and co. and can register their interest here in anticipation of further news about ticket sales.

Barea has hailed the NBA’s efforts to growing the game by visiting new places, like the UAE, and described Dallas and Minnesota as “two fun teams that are trying to get to the next level.”

“Next year is really important for both of them,” he said. “They’re talented teams, you’re going to see some All-Stars in both teams. You’re going to see a little bit everything there.”

‘Big step for Abu Dhabi’

When Barea helped the Mavericks defeat a Miami Heat side led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosch in the 2011 NBA Finals, he became just the second Puerto Rican player, after Butch Lee in 1980, to win an NBA championship.

He reveled in his role as an icon for his nation and believes the UAE could one day witness an NBA player emerge from its ranks.

“I think it’s the best. The best thing to be able to play in the NBA and represent Puerto Rico at the same time,” Barea said of his role in growing the sport back home.

“For me, it was special. All the kids that were watching. Now basketball is huge in Puerto Rico. Everybody’s trying to make it to the NBA.

“So I think this is a big step for Abu Dhabi, for all the kids over there, to get to see the NBA up close or to see players there. I think it’s going to help them in the future. And I think in the long run it’s going to really help have somebody in the NBA.”

Barea was still playing for the Mavericks during Doncic’s first two seasons in Dallas and has a close relationship with the Slovenian superstar.

“Luka is a simple kid, he just wants to have fun,” Barea said.

“He loves playing basketball. He’s a big guy. You see him on TV, but he’s bigger than you see. He’s got skills with both hands. He’s got everything on his package, you know? But yeah, he’s still learning. He’s still growing. He’s still got to find ways to make his teammates better. And I think he’s only going to get better.

“But he’s a great kid, good heart. He just wants to have fun with his teammates.”

Coaching aspirations

Barea has his sights set on becoming a coach in the NBA and would love a role within the Mavericks organization given his history with the team. He worked for the Mavs as a player development coach in 2021 and could be primed for a position on Kidd’s coaching staff.

Asked if he could pick one player he would love to coach, Barea said: “I’d go with the new kid that’s coming out, Victor Wembanyama.

“I’m starting the process now. I wanted to take a couple of years off but I’m starting to get the itch back and I want to try. It’s something that I really want to do. I know I’m good at it. I know it comes natural. So I really want to do it.

“And a player right now, I would love to coach (Denver star Nikola) Jokic. To have Jokic on my team, I think it’ll be a lot easier. We’ll see, I’m starting the process and we’ll see where I, if I find a good situation, I will start my coaching career.”

‘Tatum gets super aggressive like Kobe’

Jokic has been in beast mode throughout the ongoing playoffs and pulled off a third consecutive triple-double in the Nuggets’ Game 1 victory over the Lakers in the Western Conference finals on Tuesday.

Speaking to Arab News earlier on Tuesday, Barea shared his views on what stood out to him the most in the NBA playoffs so far and made some interesting predictions in the process.

“I think Miami making it all the way to the semifinals is huge. I wasn’t expecting that. And they’re playing some great basketball,” said the 38-year-old former point guard.

“The Lakers against Golden State, Golden State against Sacramento; those two series were really good to watch. I love to watch Denver play, I like Jokic. I don’t know, I just love him. And then I think it’s going to be Boston versus Denver in the finals. And I think Boston is going to win, but we’ll see.

“And I wouldn’t mind Denver winning either. But I think Boston made it to the finals last year. They’re playing better this year. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”

Barea has been impressed by Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who blew away the Philadelphia 76ers by scoring 51 points in Game 7 of their tightly contested semifinal series last week, likening the Celtics four-time All-Star to the late Kobe Bryant.

“I liked the game before that,” Barea said. “He (Tatum) was struggling and then he just kept trying and kept trying to figure it out. And I think that carried over to the next one. But I just like to see him super aggressive, playing like Kobe, you know, like, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to try my best and be super aggressive,’ and he did it.”

Tatum was unable to guide the Celtics to victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference finals against Miami on Wednesday night, as the Heat started the series with a valuable win in Boston’s TD Garden.

  • The 2023 NBA Abu Dhabi Games between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves will take place on Oct. 5 and 7 at Etihad Arena on Yas Island. To register your interest, click here.

Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah

Updated 8 sec ago
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Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah

  • Match will take place at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium on Thursday

JEDDAH: Jordan and Nepal will face off in the final of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship after completing victories in their respective semi-finals on Tuesday evening in Jeddah.

Jordan booked their place in Thursday’s final at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah after beating Palestine 5-0, with goals coming from Maysa Jbarah (on 27 and 83 minutes), Lana Feras (34), Sarah Abu Sabbah (59), and Enas Al-Jamaeen (86).

In the other semi, Lebanon took the lead in the 37th minute through an own goal by Puja Rana, but Nepal equalized 15 minutes from the end through star striker Sabitra Bhandari before Preeti Rai snatched victory with a goal in stoppage time.


Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people

Updated 28 February 2024
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Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people

  • 23-year-old will fight on undercard of Knockout Chaos in Riyadh on March 8

RIYADH: The eyes of the boxing world will once again turn to Riyadh on March 8, when Knockout Chaos sees the highly anticipated bout between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou.

No less significant a narrative for the sport in the Kingdom will be that of Ziyad Almaayouf, the rising star of Saudi boxing, gracing the undercard with the biggest fight of his career so far.

For Almaayouf, 23, Knockout Chaos at Kingdom Arena will provide a platform to extend his so far perfect record of 4-0.

The super-lightweight fighter said: “I feel like being the Saudi fighter and fighting in Saudi, the map is already there for me to do that. All I need to do is walk on that yellow brick road, you know what I mean?

“When you’re a fighter at my stage and you’re approaching such a big stage, your number one thought is to just make the right statement, which is to get the win. That’s all that matters.”

Almaayouf, who fights out of California, made history in August 2022 on the Joshua versus Oleksandr Usyk card in Jeddah as the first Saudi boxer to win a professional fight, against Mexican Jose Alfredo Alatorre.

Despite the intense attention Knockout Chaos has been receiving, Almaayouf was confident of remaining calm going into the fight.

“Once I’m in that ring, I can control all of that. But before that, all I can control is visualizing my performance, getting the win; not how I perform while winning.

“It’s a very fine line between them, but it’s a fine line that could make or break you,” he added.

Dubbed Zizo by his admirers, Almaayouf considered himself as more than just a boxer; he was a symbol of hope and inspiration for a nation rallying behind him.

He said: “I always say that I feel like a superhero when I do it. Gotham City has Batman, Metropolis has Superman, and Saudi has Zizo. When I fight in Saudi, so many people, boxing fans or not, they put their hopes and dreams, bragging rights, and everything on me. They feel like ‘if he could win his boxing fight, I could get my promotion and my job.’

“So many different audiences get inspired by something you are doing on a global stage. And that’s why I feel like a superhero.

“They need to have that confidence that if Zizo could do it, we could do it, and we could do it better,” Almaayouf added.

With his own podcast, “The Inner Guidebook,” and features in fashion magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Almaayouf has emerged as something of a Renaissance man with a wide variety of pursuits.

“It’s what I always try to follow in my life. Life peaks when you stop caring about what other people think you know. I feel like your purpose in life is your passion. These are all things that I am passionate about.

“First you become the boxer, then you become the athlete, then you become the figure. Everyone wants to reach the point of the figure, but very few make it to there.

“How you reach the point of that figure is to break into audiences that have nothing to do with your sport and your original field,” he said.

Almaayouf noted that many people had come across his name outside of boxing, from his fashion work, for example.

“It’s important to change the perceptions and the conceptions that people have on Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabian people or the Arab people in general.

“Yes, we do speak English. Yes, we do have that enthusiasm, the charisma. Yes, we can fight. All that stuff is very important. And the only way to do that is to touch as many audiences as possible,” he added.

Despite a whirlwind start to 2024, Almaayouf has set his sights on a singular goal — winning inside the ring.

He said: “I want to be as active as possible, but to be as smartly active as possible. It’s not about getting the most amount of fights that I can get. It’s about getting the right fights at the right time and the right number of fights at the right time, depending on the year.

“If I’m not fighting, I’m a big believer of out of sight, out of mind.

“I always want to grow my brand, keep showing the athletes and the fighters coming up, that blueprint of how to just do it.

“To be a figure more than just the athlete and the boxer. To be around the podcasting, the fashion scene, and whatever passion I could touch lives with. That’s what I want to do.

“But eventually, at the end of the day, I am the boxer. I am the professional boxer for Saudi Arabia right now,” he added.

As Almaayouf continued to chase titles in the ring, he also wanted to pave the way for future generations of Saudi boxers to dream bigger.

He said: “I want to represent Saudi on all the big cards; represent Vision 2030, represent The Quality of Life Program, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of course.

“The trust and the empowerment that they have given me to carry that torch is just a big privilege and it comes with as much pressure, but it’s privilege first, then pressure, you know.

“Of course, it’s my dream to be the first world champion for Saudi; the first unified, undisputed, the first multi-weight.

“But what’s more important is to be the first of many. That’s why I say that this story is a larger-than-life story.

“I need to keep being that flag-bearer for Saudi Arabia until I get to that world title, God willing,” Almaayouf added.


Rory McIlroy reminisces about Dubai’s Majlis course, ‘where everything started’

Updated 28 February 2024
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Rory McIlroy reminisces about Dubai’s Majlis course, ‘where everything started’

  • Irishman has won record 4 Dubai Desert Classic titles at Emirates Golf Club

DUBAI: Following his latest triumph in the UAE, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy had nothing but praise for the region’s longest-standing golf event, the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, a tournament he said allowed him to “reminisce” about his career.

The Northern Irishman etched his name in Dubai history after he became the first four-time champion at Emirates Golf Club to cap off the event’s milestone 35th anniversary celebrations in January.

McIlroy, who added to his previous victory tally on the Majlis course in 2009, 2015, and 2023, provided a thrilling weekend for fans as the reigning champion pulled back a 10-shot lead held by Cameron Young to secure his fourth Dallah trophy.

On his personal journey, alongside the city’s growth on the world stage, the 34-year-old player said: “The arc of my career and Dubai as a city have tracked each other pretty consistently along the way.

“I remember my first Dubai Desert Classic as an amateur back in 2006, when we were staying 10 minutes away in what was almost like being out in the desert, and it’s so built up now compared to then.”

In his first visit as a golfing enthusiast, McIlroy would follow his heroes around the Majlis course, with the Emirates Golf Club providing a unique full-circle moment in his career.

“For my first year at the event, I took a media pass and walked inside the ropes to follow Tiger (Woods), Ernie Els, and Thomas Bjorn and then I think about even the arc of that. Thomas is my Ryder Cup captain, I ended up buying Ernie Els’ house, and I’ve become really good friends with Tiger.

“To think about my first visit 18 years ago, and what it’s meant to come here and play in this event, having now won it four times, it’s always been a place I come back to and reminisce about my career as it’s where everything really started,” he added.

The 2024 tournament saw thousands of spectators in attendance with unique moments being enjoyed on and off the greens with the addition of a new-look fan experience.

Several major international certifications also added to the tournament’s legacy for advancing the sport in the region, having become the first golf event in the Middle East and first DP World Tour Rolex Series to achieve Golf Environmental Organization-certified tournament status in recent years.

The 36th edition of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic is set to return in January with a strong line-up again expected to take to the Majlis course as part of the season-opening event on the DP World Tour Rolex Series calendar.

Simon Corkill, executive tournament director of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, said: “The historic 2024 edition which just concluded, drew huge crowds across the four days of the tournament.

“Our preparations have already begun to make next year’s event even bigger and better. We are determined to raise the bar even higher for 2025 by not only attracting a stellar field of golf stars but also to ensure there’s a wider range of entertainment and activities for all ages.”


Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

Updated 28 February 2024
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Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

  • The Moroccan international was expected to exit the reigning SPL champions but has ended up being their most consistent forward this season

Al-Ittihad’s defense of the Saudi Pro League title has largely been one to forget.

Despite some early season promise that had them top for the first month, the wheels quickly fell off culminating in a disappointing showing in December’s FIFA Club World Cup and speculation that star signing Karim Benzema wanted out.

As recently as round seven they were still top of the table, but just 14 matches later they are now fifth and a whopping 22 points behind league leaders Al-Hilal. Any notion of going back-to-back has long since disappeared.

Their mission now is to simply try to close the gap on third-placed Al-Ahli, their crosstown Jeddah rivals, in the hope of securing what is still an unlikely spot in next season’s reformed AFC Champions League Elite competition.

Whereas last season they had one of the best defenses in the league — and one of the best on record in Saudi Pro League history — this season they have the equal worst of the top six.

Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, who spearheaded that drought-breaking title triumph, has been moved on for hotshot Argentine manager Marcelo Gallardo.

But as bad as it has been, it could have been so much worse were it not for the goals of Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who has 15 from 17 games this season.

The veteran striker has made a name for himself in the Kingdom since joining Al-Nassr after an equally fruitful stint in Qatar with El-Jaish and Al-Rayyan.

Scoring a league record 34 goals in his debut season with Al-Nassr, and 29 in his second season, he transferred to Al-Ittihad during the 2021-2022 season and has registered double digits in each of his five SPL seasons before the current campaign, making him one of the SPL’s all-time leading scorers.

It has also won him the hearts of Ittihad’s large and fervently faithful fanbase.

But after Al-Ittihad’s stunning capture of Benzema, regarded as one of the best strikers of the modern era, questions were naturally asked as to what the future held for the 33-year-old Hamdallah.

It seems inconceivable that the title-winning team would move on their leading striker who had just won the league’s golden boot, but that is what almost eventuated.

It is understood that the plan inside the walls of Al-Ittihad was to move the striker on — after all, they had Benzema now — only relenting after growing fan pressure against the move, giving the Moroccan a reprieve.

While running your recruitment based on the wishes of the fans is perhaps not the smartest strategy, it could be argued it was their best management decision of the summer.

Still only 33 and with plenty of years ahead of him, Hamdallah is what every team craves — a natural and reliable goalscorer. And as Al-Ittihad’s title defense has faltered, it is largely the goals from Hamdallah that is keeping their campaign alive.

His brace in their come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Al-Wehda on the weekend was further proof of his importance to Gallardo’s side.

Looking back, it seems incredulous that he could have been moved on. He will know how close he was and you get the sense he is playing with that chip on his shoulder, that every time he steps foot on the pitch, he has a point to prove.

And boy is he proving it.

His form this season also serves as a timely reminder that the SPL did not begin with the influx of headline signings in the most recent off-season.

Before the arrival of Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Neymar and even before Cristiano Ronaldo, the SPL still attracted elite talent.

While Hamdallah may not possess the profile of those recent arrivals, his quality cannot be questioned. The same can be said for Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr teammate, Anderson Talisca.

After Ronaldo’s arrival in Riyadh there was speculation that the Brazilian would be moved on; deemed surplus to requirements at a club that had to shed a foreign player to make way for Ronaldo.

Talisca remained and this season he and Ronaldo have combined for 35 of Al-Nassr’s 60 goals.

Write these guys off at your peril.

As Al-Ittihad prepare for a season-defining fortnight, which will feature three Saudi Clasico’s against the high-flying Al-Hilal — one in the league and home-and-away ties in the AFC Champions League — they will do so grateful to have the Moroccan leading the line.

Having scored in eight consecutive league matches dating back to November, his form is imperious. His five goals in three games since the league resumed from its winter break make him the league’s most in-form striker.

While their title defense may be over, that does not mean they cannot impact where the silverware goes this season. Not to mention there is still silverware of their own to play for in the form of the AFC Champions League, where he has registered a further four goals.

Staring down this Al-Hilal side is a daunting prospect — their winning streak currently stands at 24 across all competitions (26 if you include friendly wins over Inter Miami and Al-Nassr). Their undefeated streak is now at 34 games.

And as good as his scoring record is, Hamdallah has only scored once against Al-Hilal since joining Al-Ittihad two years ago; that coming in their 4-3 loss earlier this season. It is a wrong he will be determined to right over the next fortnight.

In a season to forget for Al-Ittihad, Hamdallah could still deliver moments to remember and that starts with this week’s trip to Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.


Eddie Howe reveals Newcastle shootout hero almost missed FA Cup win as Magpies eye Wembley return

Updated 28 February 2024
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Eddie Howe reveals Newcastle shootout hero almost missed FA Cup win as Magpies eye Wembley return

  • Keeper Martin Dubravka was ‘playing slightly ill,’ deserves ‘huge credit’
  • Coach is hoping tide is turning for the team as injured players return

BLACKBURN: Eddie Howe has revealed Newcastle United penalty shootout hero Martin Dubravka almost missed the Magpies’ FA Cup win through illness.

The Slovak keeper was Newcastle’s matchwinner, not only keeping the Magpies in the fifth-round encounter with some goal-saving stops in the 1-1 draw stretched across 120 minutes, but also with two spot-kick saves in the deciding shootout, which the visitors won 4-3.

Anthony Gordon had given Newcastle the lead in the second half before Sammie Szmodics popped up with a late equalizer to take the match to extra time, then eventually penalties. Fabian Schar, Bruno Guimaraes, Elliot Anderson and Gordon all netted in the shootout, with only Harvey Barnes seeing one saved. Dubravka pulled off two remarkable stops, from Szmodics and Blackburn Rovers’ skipper Dominic Hyam to seal a place in the last eight.

Dubravka missed the 4-1 loss at Arsenal at the weekend, with stand-in Loris Karius coming into the side — and Howe says his goalie was not 100 percent fit for the encounter, which makes his performance even more remarkable.

“It was (touch and go), it wasn’t clear. He was nowhere near fit for the weekend against Arsenal so he hasn’t been 100 percent for quite a long period of time and has been playing slightly ill and he deserves huge credit for doing that,” said Howe.

“The two penalty saves were huge for us. In open play he (Dubravka) really performed well today and (we) needed him to because they had a few big moments.

“I thought the best save he probably made was in the build-up to their goal which I thought was a magnificent save to tip it onto the bar but unfortunately he scored the rebound.

“That was probably the most disappointing thing on the night because we worked so hard to lead but to let them back into the game was a kick at that time.”

Newcastle might have got back to winning ways but this was far from vintage for Howe’s men. The Magpies labored to beat a team that have won just one of their last 13 encounters in the championship, the second tier of English football.

“We got better as we got on. I don’t think the first half was particularly good, the second half was better and extra time was our best spell of the game by a long way and we shouldn’t have allowed it to go to penalties with the chances we had in extra time,” said Howe.

“I thought generally our attitude was much better. We were fighting, we were giving everything. We weren’t perfect in our performance but our spirit was there and our spirit has been there, since I’ve been here, bar two games and it has to be there in every game.

“We spoke honestly after the Arsenal game and our performance probably, there was a hangover (from the Arsenal game) whether that be a little dent in our confidence but hopefully that will be back for the next game.

“I can’t overanalyze things. I’m doing the job to the best of my ability, I’ll always do that for every second I’m here. As for the season, I don’t know what the future hold but what it does is keep us in a competition we’re desperate to do well in with the carrot of Wembley.”

One thing which has plagued the Magpies’ campaign to date has been the lack of squad options created by a lengthy injury list. Every time one player gets back fit, it seems another drops out injured. At times, Howe has been able to call on just 12 senior outfield players.

However, that tide appears to be turning now, with options off the bench to freshen things up, something which proved crucial in this encounter, with Tino Livramento and Miguel Almiron making significant contributions off the bench in open play, before Anderson struck one of the crucial spot-kicks.

“You need the tools to win games and without our bench today and without Elliot, he was a late decision today to take him with us and if we need to use him we can use him but I didn’t want to use him for more than 10 minutes,” said the head coach.

“Even having him available and I was always going to trust him with a penalty and, who knows, the importance of having him available and that’s through the squad. I was able to take Joe Willock off early because I had quality players to bring on and having to look after him and Alex (Isak) is crucial because we need them both to stay fit. They’re both getting their fitness and their sharpness in games which isn’t ideal but that’s where we’ve been all season.”